Sunday, April 6, 2014

The 48th/150th: Deaths At Annapolis & The Sad Case of Private Michael Wilson, Who Died From "Nostalgia, or Home-Sickness"

The Annapolis National Cemetery
Several Soldiers of the 48th PA Lie Interred Here
150 years ago. . .The soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were settling into their camps at Annapolis, not quite sure what their new assignment would be once the weather improved and spring campaigning commenced. Not a few of the men pined for a return to either North Carolina or Lexington, Kentucky. The ranks of the regiment contained a solid core of veteran soldiers--those who had served with the regiment since the summer of 1861. But the ranks were also swollen with hundreds of new recruits; perhaps it was these men who were most anxious about where the spring of 1864 would find them.

It was not long after arriving in their Annapolis camps that the men were once more reminded of the grim and precarious realities of life as a Civil War soldier, when disease began to its toll. Many of the men fell sick, while a few died. Records show that at least nine men died during the regiment's six-week stay at Annapolis, although the exact number is most likely a little higher. Among those who died at Annapolis was Private Peter Zimmerman of Company A. Zimmerman, a cabinet maker from Tamaqua, enlisted in 1861 and at that time was 24 years old. He died in Annapolis on April 11, 1864.  Thirty-year-old William Smith, a painter from Pottsville, had also signed up to serve in the summer of 1861, entering the ranks of Company D. He, too, perished in Annapolis, on April 8, 1864. Charles Clark was among the regiment's new recruits, having signed up to serve in the ranks of Company G in February 1864. Less than two months later--on April 6--Clark, a 28-year-old carpenter from Pottsville was dead and buried in the General Hospital Cemetery in Annapolis. Private John Donnelly was only 18 when he left his Port Carbon behind to march off to war with Company H, 48th Pennsylvania in March 1864. He enlisted on March 3, 1864; he succumbed to disease on April 20, having been a soldier for five or so weeks. It was sunstroke that claimed the life of Private Edward Edwards, also of Company H. The 22-year-old coal miner from Pottsville enlisted in February 1864; his life ended on April 23, 1864. So, too, did the life of Lewis Garber of Company I. Garber, a laborer who listed his residence simply as Schuylkill County, was 18 when he enlisted in February 1864 and when he died on April 23.  Reuben Watt, also of Company I, was also a member of the regiment's new crop of soldiers. He was 20 when he volunteered to serve in the 48th; the date he signed up was February 23. Disease claimed his life on March 31 at Annapolis, and he, too, was buried at the General Hospital Cemetery there. Also among those whose life ended at Annapolis in the spring of 1864 was 30-year-old Peter Litchfield, an Irish-born coal miner who resided near Pottsville. He signed up on March 1, 1864, and was dead on April 9.

The Grave of Private Edward Edwards
Presbyterian Cemetery: Pottsville, PA

The Grave of Private Peter Litchfield
First United Methodist Cemetery: Minersville

While the deaths of each of these soldiers was tragic--especially, of course, to their families back home in Schuylkill County--it was the passing of Private Michael Wilson that seemed particularly sad and one that seemingly left a deep impression upon the soldiers of the 48th PA.

Michael Wilson stood 5'7" in height. He had a "Fair" complexion, blue eyes, and red hair. He had been born in England, but had since made Minersville his home and coal mining his vocation. When he enlisted to fight with the 48th PA on February 25, 1864, he was 21 years old. Along with the other members of the regiment, Wilson departed home in mid-March. The 48th arrived in Harrisburg where they spent a few days, then headed for Annapolis, via Lancaster and Baltimore. It was not long after their arrival at Annapolis that young Private Wilson perished. He died on March 24, 1864 and he died, at least according to regimental historian Joseph Gould (who also served in Company F) from "Nostalgia--home sicknesses." As Gould related, Wilson's "was a very sad case." He began to think of home; of what he left behind and what may lie ahead. According to Gould, "His comrades endeavored to divert his mind and thoughts in another channel, but were not successful and he just pined away from a big, strong, healthy boy, and died in less than a month from the time he left home." Wilson's remains were sent back home to Minersville where they continue to rest in the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery.

It was thus not just disease or battle-related injuries that caused death in the Civil War.

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